The Part Time Life

If you’re going to be a part time gardener, you will need to have an automatic watering system. First, the new stone planters behind the patio.

In my head: This should be easy. We’ll just get Allen to come over and plug in to the foundation system he already established. A couple of hours.

In Larry’s head: This should be easy. I already have left-over widgets and gaskets down in the barn. A quick trip to the hardware store for some soaker hose and connector brackets. A couple of hours.

Guess which head was in charge. Yep. Those left-overs? Wrong size. Soaker hose? No, better idea. Punch holes in the main line and run auxiliary lengths to each individual plant. A second trip to the hardware store for quarter inch line, another hole-punching tool because apparently a weasel made off with the one we already had. Stakes, which aren’t stakes as you and I know them, but u-shaped wire doodads which hold all this auxiliary line stuff in place. Many hours later, done! No reason to pay some expensive gardener person to do what is so simple that a child could really do it.

Now for the Vision Garden: well, back to the hardware store, of course. There is some urgency to these projects as the Vision-meister will be away for 13 days, and all those fledgling tomato and squash plants? But he did it! Not sure about the blood, but for sure at the cost of sweat and tears:


Pretty gorgeous, right? By late that evening, he had also planted assorted pepper plants, some broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, green beans, spinach, head lettuce, and rows-full of assorted flowers.

But we had been devoting time and energy to the garden and house at the expense of the greater, conservation projects. We were lucky to catch both Ryan (Cow Guy) and Grant (Fence Guy) for a meeting concerning the wider acreage. Decided to focus on the eastern half, down along Muddy Creek, where Grant would have to employ his dozer, brush hog, skid steer, grapple, to clear the riparian forest area for a perimeter fence. Grant says he can get started next week. We are becoming accustomed to the pliability of language as related to time, so hope he can start sometime before August.

Meanwhile, it would be important for the homeowners to identify and stake the two stand-pipes in the eastern quarter, where tall fescue has been growing all spring. Ryan may be able to hay the area to reclaim the forage, which cows will not eat as it stands but will be happy to eat in the barn next winter. But the fescue stands taller than the water pipes, and should the combine roar by and decapitate the pipes, the well would run to depletion before the pipes could be repaired. No!

So Larry and I set about to find the pipes and flag them. Here’s what that looked like:




It was an adventure, walking where you could not see the land below your feet, where there may be snakes. Larry said “Snake!” and when he got the reaction, said “don’t worry, he’s gone.” Yeah, but gone where? I’m really not good about the snakes we see, but when they’re just sitting there on the road, for example, okay, it’s interesting to observe them, but at large in the world? Ugh.

Safely back at the homestead, we called Ryan to see if we could come by to pick up the first installment of the meat which we’ve bartered for his grazing rights. We had not yet seen his holdings and were astonished by the number of huge machines parked in front of an assortment of barns. He’s an astonishing young man. His mom and dad owned the property, got a divorce, and when Ryan was 19 years old, his mom gifted him her one-quarter share of the farm. He got a federal Farm Loan to purchase the rest. He’s been running the operation ever since. Says you can either to to college to learn, or go to life. He earned an expensive year of college credit when he changed the system of feeding his cattle vegetable by-product from broccoli to cauliflower. Forty cows dropped dead, and he learned that the rumen of his animals could not tolerate the change in the Ph factor of the two. Now he custom-feeds animals from the coast dairy operations, moves his own herds across the valley, was taking his bulls in that morning to be tested for semen before turning them loose among his cows. One bull for twenty-five cows, he says. Nice work for the bulls!

And we came home with 23 individual packages of grass-fed hamburger, assorted steaks and roasts. His idea of what two elderly farmers might eat in the course of the next months. Been searching my mid-western memory for hamburger hot-dish recipes. If you have a favorite, post it on the comment site! (Or e-mail it to me.)

By the way, I love your comments! I’ve decided not to re-comment but I promise you, I look eagerly to see if you’ve posted anything and consider your words my reward for sending this out into the atmosphere. Thank you! And see you next time. We just learned that Ryan is over on the property, beginning to cut the fescue. It will look so different when we return!

If your dentist’s office phones you as you’re just pulling out of the parking garage to say that The Dentist is stuck in traffic and you will need to reschedule your 7 a.m. appointment to replace a crown, and if the sun is already warn in the early morning sky, you will probably dance a little jig, and jump back into bed, too.

Of course this means I will have to spend all tomorrow morning on the procedure (they call it a procedure, I call it punishment for a mis-spent childhood.) While Larry gets to be at the farm, working on his Vision.

That’s what he calls it, and you can actually hear the capital letter V when he talks about it. Last post you saw him pushing a rototiller across the designated space. Here’s the next step:


With his rental tractor and attached tiller, he was able to spread 3 inches of this lovely stuff onto the garden and till it into the resident acidic clay. Then came the very hard work of shoveling same into orderly raised beds, with a carefully calculated 24 inch walk between each bed. Good thing this is a Vision, right? We’ll worry later about how to keep weeds out of the walk.

Next comes a visit to the nursery to select the tomato and squash starts which will initiate the plant design. Why do we need 6 tomato plants? There are 7 rows, the outside two set aside for flowers, and He with the Vision wanted to have a tomato plant to punctuate each vegetable row. Wait a minute. Bad math, there. Oh well, easy to get confused when surrounded by the seductive bounty of an early spring nursery.

Time out: Too hard to type with a bandaid on my finger, the result of trying to slice frozen bread. Do not do that.

Okay, I’m back. Found a smaller bandaid and yes, you’re right, it is hard to play my banjo missing the one index finger, too.

Some bad news. While we weren’t looking, one of the cherry trees began to suffer. Suddenly, this:


Back when Peter was still here, I clipped the tip ends of a few branches and took them into Shonnards, another local nursery. “Your tree is just fine,” said the guru there. “Been raining. Lots of trees in the valley are looking like this.” So relieved I didn’t stop to think. It’s been raining? It rains here every year. Seriously?

Obviously our tree is not fine. I took photos and shopped around the other nurseries in town. Got a different diagnosis everywhere, ranging from cancer — trees get cancer? — to borers. “Look under the gummosis and see if there are holes, and if so, you got borers.” Gummosis is the technical term for this:


Larry scraped away, said he didn’t see any holes, but, honestly, how would we know what a borer hole looked like. Nonetheless, he sprayed with something called Serenade, at the recommendation of Shonnards, who admitted that yes, we did have a problem.
It doesn’t look too good for this poor tree. This is the tree which the nearby birds shredded last year, eating every last bright red cherry. We’ll see.

Larry just phoned in to say that at last he has figured out the water-system programming, but can’t yet determine how to water the squash plants. All six of them. Six squash, six tomatoes, two people. Yeah, but, look at our success with the cherries. Maybe we will need all those plants? Anyway, he’s heading out to Block 15 for a well-deserved burger and a beer. Me? I’m going to go sit on the deck with my coffee and read my new book (The Very Marrow of our Bones) until the sun does down.

Which seems a good note on which to end this post.


Oh well, it is Oregon! But today, May 2, the sun is shining and it’s time to catch up.
Chapter One: A Garden is Born. Larry’s been pining for a real garden here, not just the raised beds he and Peter but together last year. So a space was designated, the grass mowed. Next job, rototilling. Larry and Bob-the-Truck drove off to the rental shop and returned with a rather weather-beaten, but serviceable, machine. For some reason it was supposed to be a good idea to unload the thing with these ramps:


I’ll spare you a description of how that went. Suffice it to say that neither man nor machine was broken, but the process was spectacular, and not one that the wife was happy to observe.

But as you see, the job did get done. Hard work! Larry says that next time he will rent a tiller and hitch it to the back of the tractor. Probably would have been a wise choice this time, but, here he is:


Chapter Two: I have always imagined that if I lived long enough I would be a tough old lady living in a cottage in the woods, long gray braid coiled atop my head, making choke cherry jam and playing my mandolin on the front porch. The long hair thing didn’t work out, nor did the music, but otherwise, kinda . . .


This is the pile of wood I may have mentioned earlier that we split one rainy day. Nice shot of the barn, anyway. Me in a flannel farm-shirt generously forwarded to me by friend Nancy when she gave up country life to move to Bend. Her hair never got long either, so what’s that about?

Chaper Three: Work done, Larry and I went to The Bark Place (which sounds like doggie day care, but isn’t) to check out soil amendments for Larry’s new garden. We had selected Option D from the bins, and found someone to help us determine how much we would need.
“Should be about 12 yards. We can deliver for ya.”
Thanks, but I’ll just bring my truck.
“Oh, you got one of those little Datsuns?” (Translation: You’re obviously not a real farmer.)
No, got a Silverado. (which apparently means something in certain quarters.) Three-quarter ton.
“Well, that should be fine. But you’re going to want a tractor to spread it.” (Translation: Dude’s got an okay truck, but he’s too old to be pushing 12 yards around in a wheelbarrow.)
Got a tractor, Larry says.
“With a bucket? Gonna need a bucket.” (Translation: This is unbelievable. Guess you can’t tell a book by the cover, hey?)

Larry puts on a little John Wayne swagger as we walk out of there. Always fun to confound expectations.

Chapter Four: Son Peter and Son-in-Law Tom arrived to run the half marathon in Eugene. Seattle kids and Jenny came along, and we picked up Amy at school to watch. Tom is a way-experienced runner, having completed 100 milers, in fact. So he offered to help Peter meet his goal of doing the half in under two hours. Which he did, and he did. Great fun!


After the race, everyone came back to Corvallis for a field trip to Wilco to see the baby chicks. Ooooh, so cute! Great disappointment when we learned that we could NOT pick them up for a cuddle. Later that day, Larry got a call from his college buddy with an offer to let us have the 6 chicks he bought for his grandkids’ easter surprise. His wife Jan won’t allow the birds to stay with them much longer. and they saw the perfect solution. Give the birds to the Viehls! Except that we will be cruising the Baltic in August, so unable to set up chicken farming just yet.

But here’s my suggestion: Anyone within the sound of my voice should contact us to learn about a farm stay vacation while we’re away. Wouldn’t that be fun? Chicken sitting?

Yeah, I thought so. Well, Peter has Whitman College business in Walla Walla, so we were lucky to have him here Monday and Tuesday as well. Of course we put him two work.

Chapter Five: Burning is allowed on Monday, and we’ve a huge burn pile just east of the barn. Everyone loves a big bonfire:



Now here’s where it gets exciting. While Peter is mowing away something causes the tractor to stop. Seems a hydraulic hose has been ruptured or disconnected in some way, and that’s it. Dead in the water. Larry calls the John Deere people and they come to haul Big Green (with its bucket) away. We have not yet heard when we may get it back, perhaps 5 weeks, as they are quite busy repairing tractors belonging to real farmers.


Chapter Six. Tuesday morning a crew of 5 men and two ATVs arrived to spray around all the 6600 trees and shrubs previously planted. This job takes them all day, but we are grounded with respect to any work we can do, as for example, sawing the wood from old downed trees. One very good note with respect to the infestation of poison hemlock we are currently suffering is that they agreed to spray the large outbreak in the pasture between the barn and Llewellyn. We have lazy cups of coffee, talk about life, and watch the flock of goldfinches that have come to visit our relocated bird feeders: (I believed the plural of goldfinch ought to be “goldfinch” but according to google I am wrong.)


You might have to squint to see them, but there are dozens of the little birds and it’s great fun to watch them squabble over this perch or that peg. Just like the chicks we saw — sibling rivalry across the species. A small flock of doves is also in the neighborhood, and we even saw an evening grosbeak at the feeder. Peter had the idea that it would be fun to drive up Marys Peak, and he was correct. We drove past several downed trees across the road, and into a cloud, so the view was limited. People in Corvallis are justly proud of the fact that our “mountain” is the highest peak in the Coast Range. The claim that you can see the ocean from the top has not been verified by this family, but I’m sure it’s true.

This morning Larry and I are off to the rental yard to see if we can rent a whole tractor. And bucket. Will let you know next time!